Shirkey: 'Bad judgment' to keep Michigan Capitol closed during electors' meeting

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Senate Leader Mike Shirkey voiced what he described as "extreme disappointment" in plans to keep the state Capitol closed while presidential electors cast their votes inside the building Monday.

Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said there were demonstrations inside the Capitol four years ago when electors met to vote for President Donald Trump. He contended First Amendment rights should be protected and the Michigan State Police can handle threats that have been levied ahead of the convening of President-elect Joe Biden's electors.

"I think it’s bad judgment and worse than that," Shirkey said in response to questions from The Detroit News.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey.

"I have personally conveyed my sincere cautions and concerns directly to the (Michigan) Capitol Commission," he added, referring to the panel in charge of maintaining the building.

Citing COVID-19 restrictions and safety concerns, Michigan Democrats have decided to keep the Capitol building locked Monday and rely on a livestream to allow people to watch Michigan's 16 electors cast their votes for Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

The number of media members and individuals inside the Senate chamber will be limited for safety reasons given the pandemic, Gov. Gretchen Whtimer's spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said last week.

Under a past decision from the Michigan Capitol Commission, the building has been locked during the COVID-19 surge when there's not official business taking place inside.

But the commission had given Democrats, who are managing the electors' meeting because their candidate won the presidential race, the option to have the building open during the event, said John Truscott, vice chairman of the panel.

The Michigan Democratic Party issued a statement saying the meeting would be livestreamed to keep everyone safe. 

"The Electoral College will be broadcast live on three different platforms — Michigan Senate TV (stream 1), WLNS, and on Governor Whitmer's Facebook page," the statement said. "We invite everyone to join us from the safety of their homes beginning at 2pm on Monday, December 14 to watch this historic event."

However, Shirkey said people cannot practice their First Amendment rights over a livestream. He said he felt "extreme disappointment" in the decision to keep the Capitol building closed, limiting the members of the public and press who can be inside for the electors' meeting.

The decision is a bad example, he said, of how the country is supposed to work.

On Sunday evening, the Michigan House and Senate announced they will close their offices in downtown Lansing on Monday. Shirkey's spokeswoman Amber McCann said Sunday night the Senate closed its offices based on "recommendations from law enforcement." The decision was not based on anticipated protests but on "credible threats of violence," McCann said.

Shirkey said his thoughts on whether the Capitol should be open Monday would change if the Michigan State Police identified specifics about the threats. The state police agency has the ability to properly protect people, he said.

Staff Writer Leonard Fleming contributed.